As the timeline on Bethenny Frankel’s bitter divorce grew from months to years — four of them — the Real Housewives of New York City star often fantasized about what she’d do when it was finalized. “We are partying like it’s 1999! We are going crazy,” she recalled as one option during a September 8 interview with Us’ Ian Drew at her NYC office. Frankel’s wildest idea involved roping in a few friends, such as RHONY costar Carole Radziwill: “We are taking our tops off and jumping in the ocean!” But on July 15, when she and estranged husband Jason Hoppy each signed their divorce agreement, Frankel had already (in an ironic coincidence) planned to have lunch at NYC’s Four Seasons — the very spot where the two were wed in March 2010. There, she took her copies of the documents, ripped them up and threw them into the iconic restaurant’s indoor pool. “It was all very poetic,” says Frankel, who notes that the business was about to shut its doors for good after 57 years. “It felt like closure, going there. My divorce is done, and this place is done.”
Frankel craved the catharsis. After she and pharmaceutical sales exec Hoppy, 46, announced their separation two days before Christmas in 2012, the divorce quickly devolved into a nightmare. “It was traumatic,” says Frankel, 45. The bickering viewers had seen on RHONY and spinoffs Bethenny Getting Married? and Bethenny Ever After — “I can’t physically argue anymore; my body can’t take it,” Frankel once lamented on camera — took an ugly turn. Hoppy, who signed a prenuptial agreement before they wed, refused to move out of their $5 million NYC apartment, paid for by Frankel. And their love nest became a war zone, she testified during their divorce proceedings. The Skinnygirl mogul claimed Hoppy hacked into her computer, read her emails, secretly tape-recorded their conversations and called her a “witch” in front of their daughter, Bryn, now 6. Frankel alleged at the time, “He said, ‘You’re finished. You’re done. I’m going to ruin you.’”
He nearly succeeded in breaking her spirit. “I have cried enough tears to fill the Hudson River,” she says. “I’d think, How could this go on for so long? Four years on a two-year marriage!” But focusing on her daughter (she and Hoppy share custody) helped her survive the insanity.
“I cherish every moment,” she tells Us, “and have built my whole world around her.” With her divorce in the rearview mirror (she is forbidden from discussing the terms) and her business rapidly expanding, “I feel like I’m finally getting back to center,” she continues. “I’d say I’m in the best place of my life.”
BAD TO WORSE
Frankel once thought she’d be at her happiest with Hoppy. They met at NYC club Tenjune in November 2008, when, she has recounted, “he walked up to me and said, ‘Are you ready to get the stick out of your ass?’” (It was an invitation to dance.) Within 11 months, she and the handsome Hazleton, Pennsylvania, native were engaged and expecting a baby. Though the tough-talking, type-A Frankel and the small-town guy seemed to complement each other, their relationship already had “cracks,” she admits. Still, the Bravo star plowed ahead to become Mrs. Hoppy anyway. “You get on the ride, you want things to be perfect, and now you’re pregnant and doing a wedding and the world is watching,” she says. “Maybe I didn’t love myself enough to make the right choice.”
In time, she realized her grave error. “I think people in a relationship should be fundamentally similar,” she says. “I didn’t realize how far apart we were.” Explained a source at the time, “He’s not particularly ambitious, and Bethenny is very driven.” An emasculated Hoppy (when she offered him a job, he snapped on Ever After, “I want to work with you, not for you”) would often make passive-aggressive comments about his wife. “My balls [were] cut off two years ago,” he quipped on the show in 2012. She, in turn, complained that he “resent[ed]” her. Admits Frankel now, “There can be issues when a woman is more famous and has a bigger income than the man.”
By the end of 2012, Frankel was fed up and told Hoppy she was done. “He begged her to get back together,” says a source. She said no; he got nasty. After refusing to move out, “he would leave the house in shambles,” she testified in 2014. “There would be dishes everywhere. He would pee and poop and leave it in the toilets.” At one point, she claimed, he locked her beloved 16-year-old Lhasa apso, Cookie, in the storage unit of their building. Frankel became so disturbed, she padlocked her bedroom door.
Visitors saw Hoppy’s erratic behavior firsthand. Once, when Frankel was taping a segment for her now-defunct talk show, “Jason came out in his underwear, screaming at everyone,” says a Frankel pal. After the crew moved to her bedroom closet, Hoppy “turned on music and the TV very loud,” continues the source, “and did whatever he could do to disrupt it.”
Frankel claimed in court that Hoppy had tried to turn their daughter against her too. “He would sit with Bryn and look over and say with a glazed look at me, ‘Say hi to Mom, Bryn. Mommy should be Ursula the witch [from The Little Mermaid]. She’s a great witch.’”
Frankel bristles at the idea of Bryn around any negativity. “There is no upside to the hate one has for their ex surpassing the love for your child,” says Frankel. “All they should know is positivity, support and love.” A distressed Frankel cried uncle and moved out at the end of 2013. “If I don’t feel that something is a healthy environment for Bryn,” she explains, “I remove her from the situation.” For the next year and a half — while still footing the bill for the apartment and paying $3,000 a month in child support to Hoppy — she bounced from hotel to hotel, or crashed at friends’ apartments. “There was a lot of changing clothes in the car and suitcases back and forth,” she says. “I tried to make it like an adventure.”
Hoppy, meanwhile, continued to needle his ex. In that same court appearance, she testified that he hired private investigators to document her every move. “He was doing everything he could to torture her,” explains a Frankel friend. All the while, Frankel focused on rebuilding her life. In 2014, she bought a $4.2 million apartment in NYC’s SoHo neighborhood, and a $3 million place in the Hamptons in 2015. She and Bryn, says Frankel, “needed a home and stability.”
In March, Frankel won her old pad back too. A New York appellate court ruled that a trust granting co-ownership of the apartment to both her and Hoppy was invalid. He finally moved out in June. The exes “have zero relationship,” says a source close to Frankel. The only thing that remains are the memories of their volatile union. “One day, that will be just a blip on the screen, a scene on a reality show,” she tells Us. “I long for that to happen.”
MEETING HER MATCH
Frankel did find a silver lining in the experience: She learned what qualities she wants in a partner. “Integrity and kindness are so much more important than I ever even realized,” she says, “because I didn’t realize how many people don’t have it.” Banker Dennis Shields, 48, does. Friends for 27 years, Frankel and the single father, who is currently going through a divorce, began dating last winter. “He’s exceptionally brilliant and funny and a major family person,” she tells Us. “He likes to do the same things I do at the same speed.”
Asked if she has found love again, Frankel deflects with her typical sarcasm. “It sounds so Harlequin romance — finding love again!” she quips. She will allow, however, that he has earned the approval of both Bryn and Cookie: “My dog and my daughter like the guy.” Though Shields checks off all of Frankel’s boxes, she’s not sure if she’d be willing to wed again. “I finally got to the place where everything is settled. Why start to, like, throw it up in the air again?” she says. “I’m not looking for helicopters to fly over my house while I wear some big, white, poufy dress. I don’t feel ready for that right now.”
She’s also ambivalent when it comes to having more kids. “Who knows?” says Frankel, who notes that she’s 45 and had surgery in May to remove fibroids from her uterus. “Magic can happen, and I’m a person who believes in fate. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”
Either way, Frankel acknowledges she’s content at long last. “I feel really settled. I have a great relationship with my daughter. She is a smart and beautiful and well-adjusted child. I have two beautiful houses, balance in my personal life, and my career is at an amazing point,” she says. “I have independence — and the freedom to call the shots.”
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